Published by Random House Australia on September 2013
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
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A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.
Richard Flanagan's story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle's wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho's travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds.
This novel took me months to read. Not because it was at all boring, but because I felt that I had to savour it. I had to read it in instalments to properly understand it. At times, I did consider giving up, but something always drew me back in. That something was Richard Flanagan’s writing.
There were times when a sentence or paragraph would cause me to catch my breath. I had to put the book down and stare at the wall while I contemplated what he said and how he said it.
The book also took me a long time to get through because there are some seriously horrific scenes to take in – Systematic beheadings of Chinese POW’s; vivisections of live US airman; the daily torture and living conditions of the Australian POW’s. I needed to build my nerve and strength before plunging into the horror of war again.
I didn’t always like Dorrigo Evans – at least – I liked Dorrigo Evans the doctor and during his time in the war, but Dorrigo Evans the husband – not so much (probably due to the fact he was a serial adulterer – and I admit I am quite judgemental about adulterers). I know men returned from the war as shells of their former selves, but the fact that he felt like he had to sleep with other women to validate his love for Amy really annoyed me. Yet at the end he redeemed himself as a husband and father.
The characters I fell for in this book were the ones on the periphery: Darky Gardiner, Tiny, even the old Greek owner of Nikitaris’s Fish and Chip shop. I loved reading about them.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a beautifully written, haunting read. It weaves the horrors of war together with its disastrous aftereffects. I am glad I stayed with it – even if it took three months.